Are you a traditionalist or progressive teacher

Traditional or Progressive Teaching. Which is best?

Are you a traditionalist or progressive teacher?

Teachers are usually reflective on their practice and one subject that comes up time and time again is whether a traditional or progressive approach leads to better outcomes for pupils.

It can be challenging to find recent research that thoroughly examines this question, so it is good to see a new study published by Dr Sam Sims and Professor John Jerrim that does just that.

Here, we will give you an overview of the study and let you know the results.

Traditional and Progressive Orientations to Teaching 2022

The study was completed using data collected via questionnaires rather than observations. It relied on several assumptions regarding the approaches associated with either traditional or progressive teaching.

Of course, this in itself is a limitation but combined with the fact that the study was carried out solely in Germany, you will see that the results may not even be applicable in the UK.

When you think about yourself, do you identify with one single approach, or does it depend on the subject being taught?

Indeed, in many schools, you will see a variety of styles and approaches used by different teachers and even a single teacher. Perhaps the simplification skews the results, but they are still of interest.

Interpreting the Results

What does make this paper valuable is that it does not focus only on academic results. Rather than just educational outcomes, it also looks at pupils’ interest in learning depending on progressive or traditional teaching alongside their progression of more general cognitive skills.

What can we learn about progressive vs traditional teaching?

Some key points can be drawn from the study’s results.

  • Traditionalists believe the teacher’s role is to select relevant knowledge and deliver it directly to their class.
  • Progressives, on the other hand, believe that their role is to nurture the curiosity and interest of each child.

In addition, progressives feel that in the modern world, there should be a greater emphasis on developing pupils’ cognitive and critical thinking to enable them to face the kind of challenges they are likely to encounter.

Conclusions about Progressive vs Traditional Teaching

There are some key findings in the study.

  1. The data implies that teacher-led instruction can develop pupils’ interest in a subject and may, in fact, be better at developing interest than a progressive approach.
  2. Whilst progressives argue that their approach leads to more interest, this may be flawed.
  3. Overall, the study found that there is little to back up the claims from either side of the argument, and teaching ideas might be more critical than approaches.

It would seem that despite the argument raging for centuries about whether traditional teaching or progressive teaching is better for pupils, there is not a conclusive result.

It should perhaps be more of a starting point for further discussion.

It would be interesting to find out whether teachers in the UK, who consider themselves traditionalists, feel that they purposefully nurture their pupils’ interest in the subject. I wonder whether progressive teachers ever deliver a sequence of learning to impart knowledge directly to the class.

In other words, what teaching ideas are common to both approaches due to your school’s culture and your own experience?

Perhaps the question we should really ask is: what methods have you or others used successfully, and how can we share that best practice with your colleagues?

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